Over the past seven years at Spotlight Branding, we’ve worked with hundreds of lawyers across the country. In that time we’ve had literally thousands of conversations with attorneys. And one of the things that jumps out at me, looking back on those conversations, is how often marketing decisions are driven by tools instead of strategy.

Quite frankly, I don’t blame lawyers for getting this backward – it’s our fault, collectively, in the marketing world. So often, marketers talk exclusively about tools with no regard whatsoever to building a cohesive marketing strategy. 

Here are some examples of a tools-oriented conversation:

  • How can I show up higher on Google?
  • How can I reach more people on Facebook?
  • How can I generate more leads from my website?
  • How can I use Instagram in my marketing?

These aren’t bad questions. But they are secondary questions, and too often lawyers and marketers treat them as the primary questions. And as a result, they end up with a disjointed and ineffective marketing strategy.

There are an endless amount of tools that you can leverage in your marketing, and they’re changing every day. Google, Facebook, email marketing, video, direct mail, billboards, radio, TV, third-party apps, PPC ads, and the list goes on. But if you don’t have a defined strategy to serve as a filter and a guide, to create context for these tools, they end up driving you rather than the other way around. 

If you asked me “how can I show up higher on Google?,” I’d ask you WHY you want to show up on Google.

To get more clients? OK – well what if I told you that there are easier, cheaper, and more predictable ways to get more clients? For example, the average lawyer is only capturing about one-third of the referrals that they could be getting from their existing network. Figuring out how to maximize your referrals is a whole lot cheaper and more predictable than fighting for top position on Google! That’s the low-hanging fruit, and that’s where every lawyer should start.

Rather than worrying about Facebook or Instagram reach, first have the conversation about how you want to use social media in general. Are you using it to build your brand, to generate new “cold” leads, to stay in touch with your referral network? There’s no “right” answer, but what matters is that you’ve defined your objectives.

So rather than focusing on the tools that are available to you, or more accurately, the tools that are being sold to you… here are the types of questions you should be considering:

  • Who is your ideal client?
  • Where does your ideal client spend time? What media sources do they consume? What types of events do they go to?
  • What’s your brand – what do you stand for?
  • What makes you different than the competitors in your market?
  • Who are your best referral sources and how can you stay top-of-mind with them?
  • How many new clients/cases/matters do you need to win each month to meet your financial goals?
  • What is your maximum acceptable Cost of Acquisition – aka how much can you afford to spend to win a new client?
  • How are you going to generate leads?
  • How are you going to build your brand?
  • How are you going to stay in touch with prospective clients who haven’t hired you yet?
  • How can you maximize referrals and repeat business?

Do you see the difference?

Once you’ve answered the big-picture strategic questions, you can talk about the tools in a much more strategic and cohesive way.

Strategy drives tools… the tools exist to serve and execute the strategy. Don’t get it backward! 

Want more tips & inspiration for your law firm marketing? Click here for instant access to our Special Report entitled “How Your Internet Foundation Will Make or Break Your Marketing”!

 

 

Everyone knows that the purpose of marketing your law practice is bringing in new clients… right?

Well, yes. But that’s only part of the story. In fact, it’s just as important that your marketing keeps the wrong clients out of your law practice. Here’s what I mean by the “wrong” clients. Have you dealt with any of this recently?

  • Clients who can’t or won’t pay you on time.
  • Clients who need work outside of your area of focus.
  • Clients who abuse your time and your staff’s’ time.
  • Clients who don’t respect you and don’t value your expertise.
  • Potential New Clients (PNC) who ask a bunch of questions, take up a bunch of your time, and then don’t hire you.

Symptoms of working with too many of the wrong clients include:

  • Never-ending cash-flow stress because you’re not getting paid on time – or at all.
  • Constantly being forced to re-invent the wheel because no two client engagements look the same.
  • Stress and unhappiness – nobody enjoys dealing with jerks all day!
  • Too much time and effort spent in the intake process, and not enough business won.
  • Operating your law practice probably won’t be much fun, because every day is a struggle and it’s hard to get ahead.

If some or all of that sounds familiar… your marketing is at least part of the problem. So here’s what you can do about it. In a nutshell, you need to build a brand that positions you as irresistibly attractive to the “right” clients while keeping everyone else away. Here are practical ways to make this happen:

Puzzle Piece #1 – Build your ACE brand – Authority, Credibility, Expertise. Many of the problems discussed above stem directly from the perception that your clients and PNCs have of you and your practice. The more that clients view you as a commodity – more or less interchangeable with other lawyers or legal services – the more problems you’re going to have. Conversely, if you can develop a brand for yourself that positions you as a leading expert, as highly respected and skilled, as uniquely valuable… many of these problems will go away. Invest into building your brand and positioning yourself as “the best” at what you do in your market. Consider writing a book. Look for speaking engagements. Write blogs and articles. Get active on social media. Use video to tell your story and enhance your credibility. Look for opportunities to appear on TV or on the radio.

Puzzle Piece #2 – Focus on a niche. Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. It’s hard to position yourself as an expert if you’re a generalist. I highly recommend narrowing your focus to a single practice area, or a group of related practice areas. Here’s a thought experiment for you: Imagine that a loved one is having a health crisis and you’re looking for a doctor. What would your preference be – a generic practitioner or a specialist with a focus in the specific health issue your loved one is dealing with?

Of course you’d choose the specialist. You’d be willing to pay more for his/her services. You’d probably be sure to pay on time. And you’d treat the professional with the respect he/she deserves. Right? The same is true for you in your law practice.

This may sound scary, but you can start by simply narrowing the focus of your marketing. You don’t have to turn down clients in other practice areas. We all have bills to pay and you may not be ready to turn down paying clients yet. So you can continue to take work in other areas, even as you focus your marketing on a specific niche.

Puzzle Piece #3 – Sharpen your marketing message. Once you’ve identified your niche, you can tailor your marketing message directly to them. If you’re targeting women who are considering divorce, use language that resonates with them. If you’re targeting retired couples who are planning for the future of their estate, build your brand and your message for maximum appeal to them.

The more you can tailor your message specifically to your target clients, the more you’ll attract them. And you’ll turn away PNCs that don’t fit the profile.

Put the puzzle together and you can attract clients instead of chasing them. You create power and leverage when you position yourself as an ACE within a specific niche. You naturally begin to attract clients who value your expertise and the unique value that you create. You condition your clients to do things your way instead of being forced to reinvent the wheel every time you get a new engagement. This is how you create power in the marketplace. It’s how you attract the right clients and keep the wrong ones away. Ultimately, it’s how you build a sustainably profitable practice and attract work that you enjoy doing.

So ask yourself… is your marketing keeping the wrong people OUT of your law firm? If not, what are you going to do about it?

If you’d like more information and more practical steps to build a powerful brand that attracts the right clients while keeping the wrong ones away, click here to download our FREE Special Report entitled How to Create MarketPower™ And Grow Your Law Firm.

Marketing meetings are important. But sometimes they’re just an excuse for inaction. Talk is cheap. Buy-in and action are key. I have attended many a marketing meeting over the years, and unfortunately, many have resulted in inaction.

My friend Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Communications wrote 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals. Their daily meditations have provided inspiration for many of my blog posts over the years including this week.

March 29: “Discussions are not actions.”

March 30: “Each great idea requires equivalent energy and action. Meetings and discussions aren’t work. They’re preludes to work.”

What I have found is that marketing meetings like many meetings lead to ideas that are never enacted. Don’t have your practice group marketing sessions lead to the same result. You’re just wasting valuable time.

Marketing planning I’ve found in my 31 years in the business is the easy part for lawyers. Implementation is not. Too often it is where the plan falls apart. In coaching, I refer to myself as the CNO (although I retired from the Navy reserve) it has nothing to do with that title. Rather it stands for “chief nagging officer.” It is that role that I am most thanked for.

So, remember that discussions, meetings and planning are only the start. The key is taking ACTION.

I’m no Chicken Little, but I do have a sinking feeling about our profession. In my more than four decades as a lawyer, I have seen huge changes, not the least of which include:

  • Too many lawyers, too few jobs relatively speaking
  • accountants practicing tax law;
  • financial advisors drafting estate plans, wills and trusts;
  • unhappy and rebellious clients;
  • offshore research and drafting;
  • software created legal documents (e.g., LegalZoom);
  • realization rates woefully low;
  • a significant drop in the percentage of grads getting legal jobs within nine months;
  • …and so on.

I don’t know many lawyers who would realistically disagree that the profession is in a bunch of hurt. I have told friends who have a child or grandchild considering law school, to forget it. I don’t know whether that makes me a traitor to our guild or not. I realize the old-timers and those charging $900 an hour (I was advised that someone was bragging recently that he charges $1500 an hour) see no problem.  How long do you think clients are going to put up with that nonsense?  But, this message is not for those lawyers anyway.

Rather it’s for the much younger members of the bar, who dream (and expect) to reach that zenith. They might, but the vast majority won’t even come close. In fact, if Richard and Daniel Susskind, who co-authored The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Humans are right, there will be “technology unemployment” in the professions (not just law, but architecture, medical, financial professions as well) and there will eventually be less need for lawyers.

Hogwash, you say?  Listen to their podcast about the book hosted by Jim Calloway and Sharon Nelson on LegalTalkNetwork.  Unfortunately, 90% of lawyers won’t because it is slightly over 40 minutes in length. There is that billable hour demand after all.  I’m glad I spent the time, however.

Another recent article that cites the Susskind’s book is “The End of Lawyers, Period” by D. Casey Flaherty on   ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels under the New Normal. It contains links to some contrarian views, but also citing the “2015 Altman Weil Law Firms in Transitions Survey” points out that “Only 20 percent (of those responding stated)… that computers will never replace human practitioners.”

If you think technology can NEVER replace people, think about all the artificial intelligence already out there; such as, while doing a query on the Internet, the rest of your search term pops up before you’ve typed half of it.  Also, remember Deep Blue, the chess challenge that beat Garry Kasparov in 1997.  What is to prevent some Silicon Valley genius developing an algorithm using a database of gazillions of reported cases that will answer most, if not the majority, of legal issues down the road.  Will lawyers become extinct? Surely not, but for certain the need will be for less as technology advances.

My message is really directed at younger lawyers and future grads still in law school.  And it is: Learn quickly how to market your services and develop business in order to survive in today’s new normal and build a nest egg to temporary outwit that (technology) Foxy Loxy that Chicken Little and friends failed to. Maybe the sky won’t fall on your head, but a whole lot of acorns are going to give you a massive headache before your career is over, IMHO.

Lawyers should do the kind to work they enjoy and for the clients they like. Duh, you may say, thinking that that is a simplistic and obvious statement.  Not so fast.   That may be the ideal, but not often accomplished. According to David Maister in his famous book True Professionalism (pages 23-24) he found in his surveys of lawyers over the years that a majority either merely tolerated or disliked the work they did and the clients they represented.

How sad.

There are practical reasons that lawyers shouldn’t take all the work that comes their way. If they concentrate in a niche practice and even more so on specific industry(ies), they will be better service providers. With a better understanding of their clients’ business and industry, they will assuredly be more successful both in their technical abilities and business development skills.

A common complaint I’ve heard in surveying law firm clients over three decades is that lawyers do not understand  the client’s business. It is one reason that clients will not use a particular lawyer or firm again. Gerry Riskin in a post on Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices points out:

“Clients are hungry to find lawyers who really understand their businesses, but some firms are reluctant to market their services to specific industries.”

Unfortunately, some law firms don’t market to industry segments because they are afraid they’ll miss out on other work. The solution is to list numerous industry segments in a firm’s areas of practice, and provide links to more information about the firm’s experience in each. So, list dozens of industries where the firm has experience.

In today’s competitive legal market, it is logical for lawyers to focus their practices and not try to be all things to all comers. Marketing to industry segments is one way to do that to benefit both the clients and the firm.

In my 30 years in this business, I have found that lawyers are pretty good at planning marketing activities. With guidance, even in the early days, some were enthusiastic about putting a plan together. Maybe it was the challenge, possibly, as time went on, more attorneys recognize the need for developing business, as they realize the marketplace becoming more competitive.

But over the years, I found that even with a simple, straightforward marketing plan, the biggest problem was the failure to implement the plan. Often the excuses range from not having enough time or being overloaded with legal work, or simply procrastination.

Sally Schmidt offered 9 tips relating to marketing organization and discipline last week on Attorney at Work. In a nutshell her tips include:

  • Prepare a list of contacts and prioritize the frequency of contact. Set up Google alerts or case filing notifications to help with reasons for contacting them. (Personally I prefer a quarterly contact list using an Excel spreadsheet containing the names of former clients/potential referral sources, and how and when each will be contacted on a quarterly basis. Comments can be added to the spreadsheet to capture the results of each contact);
  • Develop a marketing and business development plan for the year that includes specific, measurable goals and objectives to raise your profile, and persons you will contact, preferably in person, and for what purpose;
  • Schedule your business development activity like any appointment using whatever technology tools are at your disposal, which should help you set aside a specific amount of time each week for implementing your plan;
  • Break your activities into manageable segments (one time management tool I learned years ago was to limit the segments to 15-20 minutes) which will help keep from being overwhelmed or from procrastinating. The shorter periods will also remove guilt for not working on a file during that period; and
  • Don’t overlook the resources available in your firm to help with your marketing and business development efforts.

When I begin a one-on-one coaching assignment with lawyers, I mention that my responsibilities include being their CNO (Chief Nagging Officer) during our calls and by email. Several clients have said they find that of great value in getting them to actually implement the plan.  So, start nagging yourself today!

Well, that might be an overstatement; but a three-part series by Mary Lokensgard on Attorney at Work presents a good outline of an effective referral system to follow.  If you do so there is a good chance that you will be guaranteed referrals. They are not automatic and they require work, but if you’re serious about getting new business remember that one of the best sources his referrals (either from clients or other friends and contacts).

In a nutshell the suggestions by Lokensgard cover three aspects:

1. Who is likely to refer to and how to ask.

  • Make a list of lawyers who do not do what you do, as well as a list of those who do and are likely to refer to you (and you to them) when there is a conflict or other reason;
  • List other non-lawyer professionals likely to have clients that could use your services (and vice versa);
  • Let your clients know that you welcome referrals to serve “other great clients like them”; and
  • Inform all appropriate contacts of your willingness to refer clients to them.

2. Rules when getting and giving referrals.

  • Suggest to referral source that the potential client, for ethical reasons, make the first contact. Subtly remind referrer if you don’t hear from the person;
  • With the new client’s permission, let the referral source know the referral succeeded;
  • Thank the referral source for the business repeatedly – by email AND handwritten note, and consider a token gift as a thank you; and
  • Let the referral source know how things are going with the matter ONLY with the client’s knowledge and consent.

3. Care and maintenance of your referral network.

  • Continue to broaden referral network by raising profile by educational and nonprofit activities;
  • Stay in constant contact with existing referral sources;
  • Look for opportunities to make referrals;
  • Show appreciation by entertaining referral sources.

Building a referral network takes work, but can pay big dividends if done efficiently and effectively. Check out Lokensgard’s three-part series for more details.

 

 

There is a lot of advice out there on how to succeed at legal marketing. Success does not depend on your efforts being complicated or difficult.  It just needs to be realistic and sensible. Consultant Bob Denney does that by offering his 20 legal marketing maxims on Attorney at Work that brings us back to basics.

The following is my list of 10 favorites from his list (with some thoughts in parentheses), although I commend to your reading his complete post of all twenty:

  1. Be the best lawyer you can be. Otherwise you really ought to find something else to do. If you’re not trying your best, clients will realize it and your practice will suffer in time);
  2. Don’t sell. Educate. Listen to clients’ problems and concerns. Then educate them on their legal options and how you might help them;
  3. Focus. Specialize. (You really can’t be all things to all people, but how narrow your focus should be will depend on your location. You can be more of a general practitioner in a smaller, rural area than you can be in a large metropolitan area. In the latter, you will need to be more highly specialized to be found among the competition);
  4. Have a marketing plan and follow it. (In my experience lawyers can be pretty darn good at planning, but I have seen too many fall down when it comes to implementing the plan. When they get busy it is easy to overlook the need to feed the pipeline for more work.)
  5. Market like you were a sole practitioner. If you don’t you may soon be one. (It continues to amaze me to see mid-level and even more senior partners who are just not contributing to the business development efforts of their firms. I have seen such lawyers cut loose in more than one of my in-house marketing positions);
  6. Current clients are your best sales agents. (Well, that assumes that they are happy campers and that you done a good job at No. 1 above);
  7. Relationship building and word-of-mouth still best at gaining clients. (Social media can contribute to both, but in the end I completely agree with Denney);
  8. Know your client’s business. (In surveying clients for law firms, I am no longer surprised to hear their frustration about lawyers not knowing and understanding their business. That includes law firms they have used more than once);
  9. Treat every client as if he or she were your only client. (Excellent advice and furtherance of No.1 above); and
  10. Under-promise. Over-deliver. (The reverse is a death knell. Don’t just meet your deadline, but exceed it by a day or more).

Enough said!

 

Okay, we’re two months into the new year. Do you think it’s too late to do a marketing plan for 2015?  Wrong answer.  It is never too late to plan. To paraphrase the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, if you don’t know where you’re going (i.e. no plan), any road will take you there. Unfortunately, it may “take you” to a failed law practice.

Your plan doesn’t have to be lengthy (a page or two is a good start), complicated or difficult to implement. It can be a simple plan. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be specific, challenging, have deadlines, and provide for accountability, as Paula Black suggests in an article on her website. Her straight forward suggestions are:

  • Set specific goals. They must be measurable.  Wanting ‘’more clients” is too vague. Specify X number of new clients to gain or revenue dollars you want to obtain;
  • Leave your comfort zone (at least a little). There should be enough of a challenge to improve your business development activities.  Same ole, same ole won’t do it;
  • Set deadlines. Otherwise it will only lead to procrastination.  For instance, plan to have lunch with two clients and three referral sources (by name) by March 31; and
  • Be accountable to someone. Empower a colleague to ask you about your activities and whether you are following your plan.  It could be a close friend, another lawyer, or a coach (internal or external).

The important point is to prepare a plan.  It is NOT too late for 2015. It doesn’t have to be a big undertaking.  A simple one will be a good start.

P.S.  CALL FOR SUGGESTIONS. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Legal Marketing Blog, I have decided to ask my readers for suggestions on marketing and business development tips that they would like me to cover. So, SUGGEST AWAY!

 

I was intrigued by post I ran across on Attorney at Work in which several marketing consultants offered their views on what was advertised as the “the best way to get paying client work right NOW.” Although there were many good business development tips provided, I was disappointed somewhat because only one consultant, Gerry Riskin, really offered what I consider practical advice on the “NOW” issue.  Not that the other ideas wouldn’t lead to more legal work, it’s just that most will take longer, a lot longer sometimes.

Riskin’s advice? Go see your clients.  It is something I have preached in my 28-plus years in the legal marketing business.  Visit your clients, past and current, off the clock. It worked for me when I practiced law, and I have had hundreds of lawyers tell me over the years it has worked for them.  Clients can be procrastinators just like the rest of us.

A visit often, if not 80% of the time, leads to immediate work. Matters that have been sitting in the clients outbox for a while.  Riskin suggests taking along a checklist or article that would be meaningful and helpful to them. He states there is a “zero” chance of visiting 10 clients and not coming back with work. I would agree, and go further by saying that the ROI will be a lot better than that.  Maybe not 80% return, but IMHO you will experience a better than 10% return.

Of my Top 10 Marketing Tips, “Visit Your Clients” has always been my No. 1 for obtaining work.  It is the best, quickest way to get work “NOW”.